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April 18, 2020

Think Outside Your Box (EP.223)

Think Outside Your Box (EP.223)


Paraphrasing the overworked “Think outside the box.” cliche. 

Today’s key point: Everyone has a box, a box where our thinking, politics, beliefs, biases, etc., live. And fester. Unless we constantly work on getting outside of–and staying outside of–our boxes, we will stay in them, embracing others who are in the same or similar boxes, and dismissing or even hating those in other boxes. 

That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode. 


Using the word box as the metaphor is useful. A stunning number of us have our thinking and beliefs taped up in a box, a box that is impervious to anything new getting in. But all metaphors break down at some point, this one breaks down because our boxes are made of a magic, one-way material. Nothing new can get in, but all sorts of things can come flying out. And those of us infected with in-box thinking have no idea that we are indeed afflicted with this disease. Quite the opposite; we believe that we have it all together, and the other poor sod is the one who doesn’t get it. With COVID, some people can be asymptomatic, but still have the disease. With the in-box thinking infected, the symptoms are there to be seen, but the infected person will vigorously deny being infected–or even having any symptoms in the first place.

Our thinking boxes start with the boxes where we live, where we work, where we worship and the boxes we go to in the way of who we visit, what we watch and listen to our various electronic boxes. In the absence of differing opinions from a wide variety of disparate sources, people will rely on the opinions of family and friends, co-workers and their selected news sources and social media. Outside of family, all the sources will be selected more for comfort and absence of frustration than political reasoning and diversity of thought. Not surprisingly, all of these sources will pretty much share the same opinions. Similar opinions from apparently different sources reinforce each other and can easily be seen as a valid consensus. And with some exceptions, families tend to lean one way or the other on significant issues, adding to the sameness. And even in the tightest families, those with “wrong” opinions can be ostracized. Over politics. 

Remember the story about the blind men learning about their first elephant by feeling different parts of the animal? Those feeling the trunk thought it was a snake. Others feeling a leg thought it was a tree. Holding the ear, a fan; holding a leg, a tree trunk; groping the side, a wall; stroking the tail, a rope, and feeling the tusks, a spear. Each group based their opinions on a partial experience, believing their partial experiences to be the totality of what they were examining. That’s why each one of them got it wrong. The same thing is happening when we rely on people and sources who are focused on the same parts of our political, social and economic “elephant” to the exclusion of facts and opinions outside of our chosen experiences. Like the blind men analysing the elephant, we do not give any credence to the other beliefs, facts and experiences. 

The difference is that the blind men were completely satisfied that the part they had represented the whole, while the vast majority of political, financial and social commentators, professional or civilian, on TV or at the dinner table, are aware of the other parts, the other positions and arguments; they simply dismiss them as inferior or hateful. The blind men were not curious enough to feel for other parts to determine if another view of what they were feeling might be valid. People with political opinions are aware of other views, but are still blind to them–they simply dismiss them–often with nothing more than an insult, as wrong or hateful.

And this will snowball. The nucleus of same opinions will attract others with the same views, and, over time, discourage those with different thoughts from speaking up. Like the snowball which when rolled attracts more and more snow, opinions on a roll attract more people with the same opinions. Pretty soon it will begin to appear to those in the expanding snowball that the correct opinions and answers–on even the most controversial subjects–abortion, school choice, foreign involvement, healthcare, etc., are obvious and unanimous. At least among correct-thinking people. Those who disagree just don’t get it.

But sincere, educated and well-intentioned people can have thoughts and conclusions that are completely different from one another. And those thoughts and conclusions are just as obvious and unanimous to them. And it is the other, other folks who just don’t get it.

The opposite of following the box-thinking crowd starts with more curiosity (and less laziness) than the blind men, and more integrity than the vast bulk of politicos. Take your curiosity and integrity and apply them to seeking and implementing helpful results, avoiding cliches and label-driven agendas. For example, single payer healthcare is not an end result. It is a tactic. An end result in this area could be described as allowing reasonable access to healthcare for everyone who wants it. We would then look for facts (facts–not opinions) that pertain to this subject, and apply non-agenda based logic to those facts to come up with the best way to achieve the desired result. Doesn’t this seem painfully clear? But that is not how we do things. Cliches, insults and false accusations rule the day at all levels. “You don’t want single payer? You hate poor people and want them to die!” “You support single payer? You are a leech who wants everything free!” 

Memo to both (all) sides: Stop that! Get over yourselves. Get behind your communities and the country. Think. Define agreed-upon common goals. (They do exist!) Look for pertinent facts. Apply non-agenda based reasoning to achieve the results. Results. NOT Agendas. 

Conclusion: If the blind men had gotten together, listened to one another, giving credence to what they were hearing and not just practicing their replies and comebacks, they would have gotten the accurate overall picture of the elephant. If we want to understand the financial and political world around us, we must do the same thing. Listen. And listen to understand, not listen simply to have the perfect comeback.


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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.